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Bible Textbook Upholds Constitution, Still Fuels Debate

Nicole Rivard
District Administration

A public high school textbook released this fall is about addressing the loss of Bible literacy--and it's designed to meet constitutional standards.

"We went in with our eyes wide open. We knew what the issues were and we created a product that would be acceptable," says Sheila Weber, about The Bible and Its Influence, released by the Bible Literacy Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group in Fairfax, Va.

"I think [district administrators] have unwarranted fear about the issue of religion and public schools and need to realize this is the proper solution to handle these issues. There is a gap in American public education. This is not about religion. This is about education," says Weber, the group's vice president of communications.

Last spring, the project released a national report that indicated English teachers say a student's lack of Bible knowledge is harming their ability to understand literature, art, music and history. Weber points out that Shakespeare alone has more than 1,300 biblical references.

To avoid any legal trouble, the textbook fulfills standards of The Bible and Public Schools, a guide on how to teach the Bible in public schools co-published by the Bible Literacy Project and the First Amendment Center.

The textbook also meets the standard of Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center. "This new textbook, while not perfect, is constitutionally and educationally sound," he says. "It includes a variety of perspectives on how to interpret the Bible. The material is presented objectively and fairly in ways that neither promote nor denigrate religion."

Not everyone agrees. "The book generally fails to note that the Bible has ... been used to justify slavery, hang witches, promote the oppression of women, attack interracial marriage and persecute gays," says Jeremy Leaming, spokesman for The Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

He suggests it would be better to offer an elective in comparative religion rather than focus on one tradition.


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